Wednesday, June 3, 2009

$52 a Night Private Villas Don't Have Ocean Views

LEGIAN, Bali, Indonesia-- "Where you from?," the bus boy asks. "The United States of America." "Obama! Oh, Obama!"

To say this president is popular in Indonesia is an understatement. It's tough to imagine how big the smiles are when we say we're from Washington. But folks seem a bit let down when we hasten to add that we don't actually KNOW Obama, although we live in the same city.

On Tuesday, we moved from Ubud, up in the hills, down to Legian, which is part of a strip of three beach towns, sandwiched between Kuta (the budget-friendly magnet for party-seeking Australians) and Seminyak (site of some of the world's luxest beach resorts). A nice man we hired in Ubud drove us first further up in the hills, to the Bali Botanic Garden and then onto a lake that is the location of a rather splendid water-surrounded temple. Ketut --which means "fourth-born child," so at least it's less common than "Wayan," or first-born child-- was a bit reluctant to drive all the way back to the beach, which is about an hour beyond Ubud. But I guess he needed the money, so he did.

It quickly became obvious that, as nice as he was and as skilled as he is at maneuvering around slow-moving trucks on mountain roads, he is not a city guy. I suspect he had never actually been in this area, which is a densely populated place where crossing the road requires taking a deep breath and darting through dozens of motor scooters. He certainly didn't know where our hotel was. That became obvious as he decided to drive down a dirt cow path through shoulder-high weeds, on the off-chance it was the road we were looking for. The cows didn't seem too perturbed--but after about 100 yards, we all decided we were probably off track, which upset Ketut a bit. We actually were in a situation where it was the tourists who had to keep saying "No problem! No problem!" Eventually, he found a cab driver who pointed us in the right direction.

I decided to pinch pennies a bit on this hotel, the Puri Dewa Bharata. Our room is comfortable, with its own private walled outdoor sitting area--that makes it a villa. There's AC, a pool and the rest. But it turns out that it is two or three VERY long, hot blocks from the beach--that's a lot of motor scooters to dodge, and a lot of sarong-sellers and time-share hawkers to ignore. ("Lady, you speak English?" After a half-dozen or so times, I moved from ignoring the poor guys to answering, "No, no hablo ingles.")

But that beach is wide, wide, wide, with warm surf, palm trees, the whole bit. And the hotel itself, once you're inside the compound, is as elaborately decorated as everything else in Bali--even the stone ledge around the pool is carved with what I'm guessing is another elaborate version of a creation myth. The statues of gods are neatly dressed in their own sarongs (which believe me is odd-- a stone statue needs a sarong?) And each day, someone has placed a nice, flower-strewn ceremonial offering to the gods in the little altar niche outside our room.


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